Friday, May 29, 2015

About That Parade . . .

By Ralph Cipriano
As Babs Would Sing, Don't Rain On My Parade!

A funny thing happened to that proposed Heroes Parade down Broad Street. It was supposed to honor six former narcotics officers found not guilty by a jury two weeks ago on 47 racketeering charges.

But a week after he announced plans on this blog to honor the defendants in the so-called rogue cops case, James J. Binns, the CEO and president of the annual Hero Thrill Show, changed his mind.

"In my opinion, it's more important for these men to enjoy their families and get their lives back in order after what has unquestionably been an ordeal," Binns said in a phone interview.

"The Hero Thrill Show stands on its own merit," Binns said. "There should be no confusion here."

The thrill show, he said is about raising money to pay for the education of the children of police officers and firefighters who have "given their lives in the line of duty," Binns said. "And nothing should detract from that."

Certainly not a "bunch of pissants," Binns said, referring to the critics still sniping at the defendants.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"I Stood Up For A Hero"

Michael J. Diamondstein's closing in the rogue cops case.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Parade Down Broad Street For Six Defendants

By Ralph Cipriano

They may not have their jobs back yet or their paychecks.

But the six defendants in the so-called rogue cops case are getting a parade down Broad Street.

So says James J. Binns, now in his tenth year as president and CEO of the Hero Thrill Show. It's an annual event that raises money for college scholarships to benefit the sons and daughters of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.

On Saturday Oct. 10, former Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser will be grand marshals of the 61st annual Hero Thrill Show, Binns said. The parade will begin at 11 a.m. at City Hall. The six former narcotics cops and their families will ride in six white Bentley convertibles in a "Heroes Parade" down Broad Street.

The parade ends at the Wells Fargo Center, where the thrill show will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Last year's event attracted 50,000 people. This year, Binns hopes to triple that number.

Binns was the defense lawyer for Michael Spicer, the only one of the defendants to take the stand. After a seven-week trial, the six former members of the Narcotics Field Unit were found not guilty on all 47 charges contained in a 26-count federal RICO indictment.

"These heroes have been vilified in the press and it's time that they were recognized as the heroes they are, Binns said. Asked if he expects any blowback over elevating a bunch of guys denounced by the police commissioner, the mayor and the U.S. Attorney, Binns responded, "I don't see how any reasonable fair-minded individual could have the slightest doubt about their innocence if you were there and heard the testimony."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Lynn's Lawyer Seeks Return Visit to Superior Court Panel; District Attorney Objects, Claims It's "Judge-Shopping"

By Ralph Cipriano

Thomas A. Bergstrom, the defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, is seeking a return visit before a panel of three state Superior Court judges who previously ruled that his client should get out of jail immediately.

Bergstrom also is seeking permission to brief that Superior Court panel on other appeal issues that the defense lawyer hopes will get his client a new trial.

In response, top appeal lawyers for District Attorney R. Seth Williams argued that Bergstrom was "judge-shopping." Furthermore, the D.A. asserted that the state Superior Court panel of judges that previously ruled on the Lynn case had made a "material misrepresentation of the law." Because of that material misrepresentation, the district attorney argued in his brief, it would constitute an "appearance of impropriety" if the same panel were allowed to rehear the case.

On Wednesday, Bergstrom filed a reply brief that claimed the D.A.'s accusation of judge-shopping was "unfounded and insulting." Regarding the alleged material misrepresentation of the law, Bergstrom wrote that the charge was "disturbing." He argued that the Superior Court panel of judges was best-suited to rehear the Lynn case because they are already familiar with it.


Jack McMahon Rips Police Commissioner Ramsey A New One; Then He Dumps On Inky Editorial Board For Bogus Mass Mind-Reading

By Ralph Cipriano

Jack McMahon, the lawyer for former Officer Brian Reynolds, has blasted Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey for his "ugly arrogance" and "blatant disregard" for the constitutional rights of the six defendants in the rogue cops case acquitted last week on all 47 racketeering charges.

If that wasn't enough, McMahon, a former prosecutor, ripped Ramsey for being a coward, "a man without a backbone," as well as an embarrassment to the city of Philadelphia and its police department.

In the rogue cops trial that lasted seven weeks, McMahon functioned as the lead defense lawyer, tearing apart a bunch of drug dealers as well as former Officer Jeffrey Walker, the government's star witness against his former fellow members of the narcotics field unit.

McMahon is pissed because ten months ago, when the defendants were indicted, Ramsey, playing judge and jury, pronounced them all guilty at a press conference. The rogue cops case was "one of the worst cases of corruption that I have ever heard" in his 40 years as a cop, Ramsey said. To make it worse, Ramsey told reporters that he was going to destroy the former officers' badges.

Then, after a jury found the defendants not guilty on all charges, Ramsey didn't offer any apologies. Instead the police commissioner who fired the defendants said they would have to go through arbitration to get their jobs back.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Closing Argument That Had A Courtroom In Tears

James J. Binns' closing in the rogue cops case.

Friday, May 15, 2015

How To Reconstruct A Train Wreck

By Ralph Cipriano

When there's a catastrophe like a train derailment, guys like Steven M. Schorr get paid to reconstruct what happened.

Schorr, a licensed professional engineer from Abington, is the guy who goes to an accident scene packing a high-definition laser scanner to map all the debris.

It doesn't matter whether engineers like Schorr are investigating a plane crash, a multi-vehicle car accident, or a train derailment, the methodology is the same.

"The reconstruction of a collision is an application of the laws of physics to the physical evidence left as result of a collision," Schorr said.

To that end, the job of the National Transportation Safety Board is to not make any judgments right away,  Schorr said, but rather to "collect the physical evidence." That's why NTSB member Robert Sumwalt recently bopped Mayor Nutter for his declaration that the "idiot" engineer of the Amtrak train was at fault because he was allegedly doing 106 mph on a curve with a speed limit of 50.

"You're not going to hear the NTSB making comments like that," Sumwalt said right after Nutter's announcement. "We want to get the facts before we start making judgments."

And right now, the NTSB is collecting evidence.

They want to map "where everything ends up," Schorr said. "The points of rest of the train pieces, the location of the debris path." The spots along the accent route where occupants were ejected, as well as all the damage done to the train. All that physical evidence can sometimes be used to make a 3D animation to recreate the accident, Schorr said.

"Once you figure out how the accident happened, you can then attempt to figure out why it happened," Schorr said.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Jury Acquits Six Narcotics Cops On All Charges

Perry Betts hugs daughter Samantha; Photo: Michael Bryant/The Inquirer
By Ralph Cipriano

It was a complete repudiation of the government's racketeering case against six former narcotics officers.

Forty-seven times, the jury foreman today announced a verdict on forty-seven charges contained in twenty-six separate counts. Forty-seven times, the jury foreman said, "Not Guilty."

When the jury foreman sat down, there was a roar of approval from  courtroom spectators that could be heard out in the hallway. After a ten-month legal ordeal, all six defendants were getting ready to walk out of the federal courthouse as free men, after their electronic ankle bracelets were removed.

The last defendant to leave was former Officer Thomas Liciardello, who has spent the past ten months in solitary confinement while the other defendants were out on bail.

After the verdict, Liciardello and the other defendants literally stopped traffic out on Market Street while supporters, including FOP President John McNesby, pulled over in trucks and SUVs, to honk their horns in solidarity.

"I just want to thank the jury; they believed in us," a pale Liciardello told a media throng as he stood beside his wife, also a police officer. "I just want to get on with my life."


Support From An Unlikely Source

By George Anastasia

Mobster-turned-government-witness Ron Previte, who was a Philadelphia police officer for 12 years, was digging into a lunch of veal parmigiana and penne pasta in a restaurant near Atlantic City this afternoon when he was informed by that six former narcotics cops had been found not guilty in their federal corruption trial.

"Beautiful," said Previte. "Good for them."

Previte didn't know any of the six defendants, but he knows about police work and despite his checkered past, he still takes pride in the time he spent on the streets wearing a blue uniform.  

"I did some bad things but I was still a good cop," Previte said. "People don't understand. These same people who were calling these guys corrupt, badmouthing police, when they were getting slapped around by their husband or when their drug dealing neighbors were shooting at one another, the first person they called was a cop."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

No Questions, No Verdict As Jury Deliberations Continue in Narco Cops Trial

By George Anastasia

Not a peep.

Not one question. Not one request for documents. Not a word.

They jury in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers completed its fifth day of deliberations this afternoon without offering any sign of where things stand. One day after declaring an impasse on some issues, the panel went from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. without any indication of where they were heading and of whether the impasse was still in place.

"There's just no way to know," said one member of the defense. "We could speculate all day and be totally wrong."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Jury At Impasse In Narco Cops Trial

By George Anastasia

Jury deliberations have apparently hit a snag in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia narcotics officers.

The panel of six women and six men sent a message to Judge Eduardo Robreno late this afternoon indicating there was "an impasse." The note, delivered shortly before 3 p.m. read, "If we are at an impasse on one or more of the counts, what is the direction of the court?"

The jury is weighing the evidence and testimony introduced to support a 24-count indictment. There was no indication on which counts the jury may be stalled. The question would seem to imply that the jury has reached consensus on some of the charges, but there is no way to determine whether they have voted to convict or acquit.

"It's like reading tea leaves," said one member of the defense camp before the judge responded to the jury question.

Family members and friends of the six defendants have sprawled across the 15th floor hallway outside Robreno's courtroom during the deliberation process. The panel got the case late Thursday afternoon after hearing nearly six weeks of testimony and closing arguments. Today marked the third full day of deliberations.

Robreno told the jurors to keep on deliberating.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Msgr. Lynn's Lawyer Seeks Hearing In Superior Court

By Ralph Cipriano

A lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn filed two motions in state Superior Court today, seeking to argue an appeal for a new trial before the same panel of judges that previously overturned Lynn's conviction.

On Dec. 26, 2013, state Superior Court Judges John T. Bender, Christine L. Donohue and John L. Musmanno issued an opinion that reversed Lynn's June 22, 2012, conviction in Common Pleas Court for endangering the welfare of a child.

On April 27, 2015, the state Supreme Court entered an opinion reversing the Superior Court's reversal.

In his motion seeking a new briefing before the Superior Court, Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn's lawyer,   noted that the state Supreme Court only addressed one narrow issue, namely whether Lynn was considered an "other person supervising the welfare of a child" under the state's original 1972 child endangerment law.


Day Three In Rogue Cops Case Without A Verdict

By Ralph Cipriano

The jury in the rogue cops case spent a third day behind closed doors deliberating the fate of six defendants.

Judge Eduardo C. Robreno received two notes from the jury today.

The first asked to see three trial exhibits: D51, 9J and 9K.

Since the media was not provided with a list of trial exhibits and there is a gag order in the case, it remains a mystery as to what exhibits the jury was asking for.

The second note asked the judge if the jury could leave at 4:30 p.m. It was a request granted by the judge without requiring the jury to file into court seeking to be dismissed. The judge requested that the court clerk remind the jury of his instructions not to discuss the case or view media accounts.

The judge also announced that the lawyers in the case -- two prosecutors and six defense lawyers -- didn't have to continue to stake out the courtroom awaiting a verdict. A clerk was instructed to collect phone numbers. The judge told the lawyers to stay at locations no more than ten minutes away from the courthouse.

Deliberations are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
Friday, May 8, 2015

Keeping The Vigil

By Ralph Cipriano

About two dozen spectators, mostly family members and supporters of the defendants, spent the afternoon camped in the hallway outside Courtroom 15A.

Meanwhile, behind closed doors, the jury in the rogue cops case sent two questions to Judge Eduardo C. Robreno that prompted some sparring among the lawyers.

"Hey, hey, hey," the judge yelled at the lawyers, to get them to calm down.

The first jury question on the second day of deliberations asked if all the charges in the case are interrelated, or whether they all stand alone.

The second question involved Episode #17 of the indictment, where Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds and John Speiser allegedly stopped a person identified as "L.S." near 38th St. on Aug. 14, 2010, and confiscated a total of $1,100 in cash.

The indictment charged Liciardello with attempting to "conceal the theft from authorities" by writing a police report that said only $507 had been seized from L.S. "To conceal the theft of the additional $593 from L.S., defendant Liciardello falsely stated in the report that Jeffrey Walker had made an undercover purchase of Endocets from L.S. when Liciardello knew that was not true," the indictment stated.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cops Or Criminals? Jury Deliberations Begin In Narco Cop Trial

By George Anastasia

Were they cops who bent the rules or criminals who broke the law?

That's the only question that matters for a federal court jury that began deliberations this afternoon in the corruption trial of six former Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers.

The jury, primarily middle class suburban residents, got the case shortly after noon following a detailed two-hour explanation of the laws that applied to the case by Judge Eduardo Robreno. The judge's charge capped a six-week trial that included days of conflicting testimony from drug dealers (the prosecution's key witnesses) and law enforcement officials (called by the defense). The jury also got two days of highly charged and often vitriolic closing arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The six former members of the Police Department's Narcotics Field Unit are charged in a 26-count indictment with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and other valuables from narcotics dealers they had targeted and with fabricating police reports and arrest records to cover their crimes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Narco Cops Trial Heads To The Jury

By George Anastasia

The government wasn't interested in finding the truth, but merely in making a case.

That was the message delivered again and again today in closing arguments for the defense in the racketeering corruption trial of six Philadelphia Police Department narcotics investigators.

The jury, which is expected to begin deliberations sometime tomorrow, heard a steady stream of defense arguments built around attacking the government's case and the credibility of its witnesses, including more than a dozen admitted drug dealers and one dirty cop.

One defense attorney after another fired verbal shots at the prosecution.

It was, the jury was told, a "flawed" case built on "fables" not facts. Testimony came from "a parade of witnesses that looked like an audition for the Jerry Springer Show." The prosecution was "disingenuous in the extreme" and the six-week trial was an example of "innocent men being accused by guilty men."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek, who had the final word in the government's rebuttal closing late this afternoon, shrugged off the criticism, telling the jury the defense strategy was to "attack and distract" and that despite the emotional claims and high octave rants, the defense still was faced with one hurdle it could not overcome.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Government Asks Jury To Believe A Bunch of Drug Dealers

By Ralph Cipriano

Should the jury at the rogue cops trial believe stories of alleged police misconduct as told by a bunch of drug dealers?

Yes, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney, because the tales the drug dealers told are "shockingly similar" to the stories told years later by former Officer Jeffrey Walker, after he got caught red-handed in an FBI sting operation.

No, said defense lawyer Jack McMahon, because the drug dealers are a bunch of lying criminals with no corroborating evidence to back up their ridiculous stories. As for Jeffrey Walker, McMahon said, he's a liar and a thief who would "do anything to save himself."

The doors in Courtroom 15A were locked throughout the day today as lawyers on both sides of the case gave their closing arguments before Judge Eduardo C. Robreno.

McCartney was content with attacking the defendants in the case, six former members of the narcotics field unit accused of conspiring to beat and rob the drug dealers they busted, and covering up their tracks with phony police reports.

McMahon, however, spent as much time attacking the government as he did the dirty cop and the drug dealers.

"What the government has done in this case should be shocking to all of us," McMahon told the jury. The feds have displayed "extraordinary gullibility" while embracing a disreputable cast of characters, McMahon charged. "They [the feds]  have failed at every level to investigate and corroborate."


Merlino Wins On A TKO

By George Anastasia

Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino was sprung from jail last month after a appellate court panel vacated a U.S. District Court order sentencing him to four months in prison for violating the terms of his supervised release.

This morning the panel issued a detailed report explaining its findings. Merlino's release, on April 24, came with only 10 days remaining on his four-month sentence.

"They owe me four months," Merlino quipped during a phone interview this afternoon, adding, "I hope they just leave me alone. I'm not doing anything wrong."

Last month, when the appellate court announced it was vacating the lower court order that sent Merlino back to jail, his lawyer, Edwin Jacobs Jr. declared that "my client has served a four-month sentence for doing absolutely nothing wrong."

But that's not exactly the legal takeaway from the split decision of the appellate court that was made public today.

Merlino, who is back in Boca Raton where he is the front man for a posh Italian restaurant named -- what else? - MERLINO'S, won on a technicality.

The appellate court never took up the broader defense argument that there was not sufficient evidence to support the allegation that Merlino had knowingly consorted with fellow South Philadelphia mobster John Ciancaglini in a Boca Raton cigar bar while on supervised release.

Instead, in a split 2-to-1 decision, the appellate judges found that Merlino had not been served a summons prior to the expiration of his three-year probation period and as a result, the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia no longer had jurisdiction.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Big Pizza Robbery

By Ralph Cipriano

On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney asked former Officer Michael Spicer about a shocking allegation contained in "Episode #4" of the government's indictment of the rogue cops.

On Nov. 26, 2007, the indictment charged, while hanging out at drug dealer Michael Cascioli's 19th floor apartment on City Line Avenue, Officers Spicer, Linwood Norman, Perry Betts and Jeffrey Walker allegedly took money from the drug dealer's nightstand and "used it to purchase pizza" for four big hungry cops "without [Cascioli's] permission."

"That would have been a staple of our diet," Spicer conceded with a half-smile from the witness stand when asked about the pizza.

Sensing weakness, the prosecutor pressed in for the kill. Who bought the pizza, she wanted to know.

"I don't know," Spicer replied. "I don't know who paid."

It was exchanges like this during the three-hour cross-examination of Spicer, the only one of six defendants to take the stand, that had the defense camp smiling and laughing when it was all over.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Milkman Delivers

By George Anastasia

It was a primer on police narcotics field work, a street-level view of the war on drugs.

And it was given by an unassuming former milkman who worked the dairy beat in South Philadelphia for 11 years before going to the Police Academy.

For nearly five hours today Michael Spicer, one of six Philadelphia Police Department narcotics officers charged in a federal corruption case, testified in his own defense -- and by extension in defense of his five co-defendants.

Calm and confident, and at time self-effacing, Spicer, 49, walked the federal court jury through a series of incidents that are at the heart of the corruption indictment. Again and again, he denied the allegations, responding to questions from defense attorney Jack McMahon with short and clear answers.

"That's not true . . . That never happened . . . That's a lie," Spicer said, never raising his voice or showing any anger.